Heater, Mother of Lance

The Armstrong Plumbing Disaster

Jon and I are in the middle of our own personal hell as the outside of our house is swarmed with city workers and plumbers and loud machines that have little regard for children’s nap schedules. Our sewer line replacement didn’t begin until Monday morning because certain city permits had to be filed including one that would allow the plumbing company to block off the entire street and dig a swimming pool right in front of our driveway. I asked them if they could throw in a diving board considering how much this is costing us, and one of them scowled at me for trying to make light of such important work. If you ask me, dude takes shit way too seriously.

Jon has been taking notes through every step of this process while I’ve been inside reviewing the finer points of an anxiety attack. I have the excessive nighttime drinking part down, and the incessant pacing while gripping the hair on the back of my head, but I haven’t yet had the chance to throw a heavy object at someone who doesn’t deserve it. I keep waiting for Jon to open the door with a heavy sigh to bring me the bad news that they’ve found something else wrong, that it’s going to cost us more than the incomprehensible estimate they gave us last week, that they’ll take our house plus a down payment of one kidney.

But he says the lead plumber working on this problem is an expert in the field and everything is going as textbook as possible. There is a very sick part of me that feels a sense of pride in the fact that a Sewer Line Expert found objects in our pipe that he had never seen before. You can imagine the things he’s pulled out of the ground during his tenure, he’s an expert after all. Think about all the things you’ve flushed down your toilet: that dead goldfish, an old Steely Dan cassette tape your husband thought he’d lost, a neighbor’s cat.

But until last week he had never been confronted with a seemingly impossible violation of physics. HOW DOES SOMEONE FLUSH A BEACH TOWEL? I have no idea, but for the rest of my life I will brag about the fact that it happened here.

Jon posted about everything he’s learned here and here, recommended reading if you live in an old house and like to use a lot of toilet paper (raises hand and feels a bit ashamed considering the relative smallness of my ass, admits it does seem a bit indulgent if not totally unnecessary, but doesn’t want to know if you are the type of person who skimps on toilet paper, that type of information wouldn’t damage the friendship but would definitely determine whether or not we could eat at the same table).

  • babbling

    2006/04/26 at 9:25 am

    Maybe when you’re 80, sitting on the porch in matching rockers waiting for Leta and the grandchildren to arrive on a Sunday, you can look back fairly painlessly,laughing through your giddy dementia and say to Jon, “Honey remember that spring we spent our entire lift savings on the plumbing?” Could be like birth, maybe the memory of pain will fade over time. Then again maybe you’ll be famous in your own neighborhood and everyone else will be sitting in THEIR rocking chairs, recalling the time “The Armstrongs shut down the whole street”. I remember a post you wrote around the time of Amsterdam, (remember how well the toilets worked there?) when you said this year was shaping up to be exciting with lots of new experiences. Somehow I’d bet this was not what you all had in mind. Try to remember the great stuff. Such as,,,at least Jon is home with you to get through all this. I’m clickin ads left, right and center. It’s my own personal way to contribute to the “Hope you poo and flush it too” fund!

  • omar

    2006/04/26 at 9:19 am

    I’ve gotta be honest, I’m not quite sure of the appropriate thing to say to someone who is in the midst of a sewer line replacement. I just can’t resist commenting since you opened it up.

  • Susan

    2006/04/26 at 9:22 am

    I had a friend who bought a little fixer-upper house that she found out used to be a drug house. When they were replacing the sewer line, they found thousands and thousands of little cannabis roots, from all the seeds and plants that had been flushed every time there was a raid. The little buggers were trying to grow in there.

    There were some other interesting things buried in the back yard when I was helping her clear the brush…


  • HalfwayCrucified

    2006/04/26 at 9:22 am

    The talk about mormons and constipation is fine
    And that trip to amsterdam’s still on my mind.

    It’s clear Leta’s a sweety and Jon is your man

    (apologies to Becker and Fagen)

  • Daisy

    2006/04/26 at 9:22 am

    Just think…this would have happened YEARS ago if you pooped like a regular person. 😛

  • hopefulloser

    2006/04/26 at 9:16 am

    A ton of toilet paper followed by the finishing touches of a baby wipe, is my way. I know that can’t be good for the pipes.

    I deal with anxiety in much the same way you do. I’m on Corona with lime therapy.

  • Amybobamy

    2006/04/26 at 9:13 am

    Wow, this sucks. I’m sorry for the crap… literally.

    PS. I would rather risk the ‘too much toilet paper’ than not.

  • crumb

    2006/04/26 at 9:13 am

    Items requiring removal of toilet to unclog it:
    Large piece of steak
    Popsicle stick
    Barbie doll

    Don’t ask . . .

  • Thérèse

    2006/04/26 at 9:16 am

    Damn, Heather. A beach towel? You’d better be proud. Whew!

    I also have to say that I hate it when people take their shit to seriously. Or other people’s. And too literally. Seriously.

  • catheroo

    2006/04/26 at 9:12 am

    You should sell that towel on eBay.

    I’m serious. Someone would buy it.

  • kim from germany

    2006/04/26 at 9:21 am

    wow, i hope this will be over soon for you to have back a peaceful house. i also use a lot of toilet paper, i admit it. but i just like my butt really, really clean… sorry.

  • Melissa

    2006/04/26 at 9:12 am

    I worked in a group home for developmentally disabled adults, and one summer, the septic system crashed. The plumber found two or three bath towels in the pipes, among the usual kotex pads and a Barbie doll, among other things that I can’t recall because I’m pushing 40. The plumbing & septic team were at the house for weeks, and everytime I showed up for my shift, they would show me the outrageous thing they had pulled out that day. It was a nightmare and it wasn’t even my house. The smell alone was indescribable. I feel your pain and I can’t believe they have dug a swimming pool-sized hole in front of your house. That’s bullshit.

  • ekmadsen

    2006/04/26 at 9:11 am

    I now realize that we live in the same neighborhood. Your “closed road” diverted me yesterday! We learned that we have to “blade” our pipes a couple years ago. The video was frightening too– damn old pipes.

  • anna nic

    2006/04/26 at 9:07 am

    the second i have some extra cash i’m getting my lines bladed. that’s that. our house is 100 years old and there are several trees around it about the same age. it’s unavoidable.
    i do feel for you. we had the City Water Dept at our house yesterday checking the line from our house to the street because we have no water pressure. i mean NONE. if you flush any toilet, no water comes out of the showerhead AT ALL for 10 minutes.
    We got the great news from him that the problem is actually in the house so we have to replace 20ft of pipeline between the boiler and the first floor.

  • Kate

    2006/04/26 at 9:10 am


  • katybeth

    2006/04/26 at 9:10 am

    Wow. In the time it took me to sign in, 7 more comments appeared.

    My current roommates now think something is wrong with me, because I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at “dude takes shit too seriously.” Because, after all, you ARE talking about a sewage line. Lovely.

  • Katie

    2006/04/26 at 9:05 am

    So…perhaps you couldn’t tell, but maybe it was an old, ugly 70s towel? Or do you recognize it? That is the question–I’d imagine you’d like all the fun of your flushed towel story without any blame, so I think if someone asks you, you should say the towel looked like something Carol Brady would wear. I’d have to say more is more in the TP department in my book.

  • karyn

    2006/04/26 at 9:01 am

    I’m glad it’s going well.

    I’m in awe of the beach towel. Very impressive.

  • renee

    2006/04/26 at 9:02 am

    Heather, now that you can poop (which I think started happening months ago, but we’ll celebrate anyway), I think you can use all the toilet paper you want. Makes up for lost time, no? Clearly this disaster is not your fault, and I appreciate your humor about the situation.

  • Goooder

    2006/04/26 at 9:02 am

    Things that are bad come in waves. Hopefully it is over for you and something good will be happening to the Armstrong Family soon. Something real good.

    Otherwise Leta might have to start pulling her weight around the house.

  • Nat W.

    2006/04/26 at 9:02 am

    I live in an old house and LOVE my toilet paper. My mom is one of those people who uses 4 squares for each wipe, and that just pisses me off.

  • Vika Zafrin

    2006/04/26 at 9:01 am

    Considering the circumstances, you are taking this unqualified-ly well. Plus, it’s a unique experience! That’s what I tell myself when something totally unexpected and *weird* happens.

    One bright spot in all this must be the, how did Jon put it?, pooping with impunity! A new line, TOTALLY new, nobody else but you used it, therefore you know that there are no [more] beatch towels in it. Life’s grand!

    It’ll be grander with a decadent martini. Or your poison of choice.

  • katy66

    2006/04/26 at 8:59 am

    Also, I know that one of the greatest disasters that can ever happen consists of Dirty Tampons, Bathroom Trash Bin and Dog.

    We found that out during my friend Molly’s cocktail party when her dog got into the trash bin, ate one of the above ingredients and then barfed it up on the throw rug for all of her guests to admire. Tasty. But, those animals eat their own poo sometimes, so I guess tampax with mom sauce is a delicacy.

  • JennJenn

    2006/04/26 at 8:59 am

    You forgot Airsupply.

    An old Airsupply tape.

    Fuel Supply? Check
    Food Supply? Check
    Airsupply? Lost in love and I don’t know much….

  • simzgirl

    2006/04/26 at 9:00 am

    I too am a toilet-paper-over-user. And I am not afraid to admit it!

  • mmoxxie

    2006/04/26 at 8:58 am

    I live with 3 other girls, and we go through at least one roll of toilet paper a day. No joke. It doesn’t even matter if it is a double or triple roll either, by bedtime, it’s gone. My boyfriend also commented that when I stay at his place on the weekends, the TP mysteriously disappears.

    I didn’t do it. I swear.

  • Y

    2006/04/26 at 8:56 am

    I live in a house full of Skimpers and the proof is in The Skid Marks. I don’t get it. I’d rather be accused of “overwiping” and “using too much toilet paper” and “clogging up the pipes” than have to walk around with all of THAT in my chonis.

    Man, you totally went and got me started. This issue is more heated than politics in our house.

  • katy66

    2006/04/26 at 8:55 am


    I learned that the hard way:(

  • Mrs Ca

    2006/04/26 at 8:55 am

    Well, I’m glad to hear it’s going as well as it can. And I would love to be able to find out how a beach towel got flushed, because it sounds like that takes some real talent.

  • Urs

    2006/04/26 at 8:45 am

    how can you not like steely dan?

  • SurprisingWoman

    2006/04/26 at 8:46 am

    Well, I was first (Whoot!) but my comment reads like I am overindulging in daytime alcohol as well.

    If I am going to be blamed then I might as well…

  • claddyjack

    2006/04/26 at 8:47 am

    Great pictures though. You just reminded me that part of my problem is I don’t drink heavily enough in the evenings.

  • Giselle

    2006/04/26 at 8:49 am

    Please tell me you didn’t keep the towel. Ew.

  • Elizabeth M. Johnson

    2006/04/26 at 8:49 am

    I think I’m going to look into getting our line bladed. We live at the end of the street and have already been told that if something went wrong with our line, we would be the ones to pay.

  • liznboys

    2006/04/26 at 8:52 am

    I feel for you…we just bought a 20+ y/old house w/the original roof. Husband is between “real” jobs (consulting, at the moment) and we are busy holding our breath that nothing big goes on the house when we don’t have regular flow.

    Twist my arm…I’ll have a drink to you and your plumbing plight this evening….

    PS I love baby toes w/ketchup…my 2 1/2 y/o son likes to remind me “Mama, they not food! You a silly mama”. Leta’s a DOLL

  • fred

    2006/04/26 at 8:52 am

    beach towels, sunglasses, toys, and toothbrushes.. all these things my 4 year old had tried to flush in his first years around a bathroom.

    i put the plumbers kids through college.

  • brandy

    2006/04/26 at 8:54 am

    If they found anything really valuable do you get to keep it?
    Just wondering.
    I always use too much toilet paper, but only when the man buys it, cos he buys the cheapest and its thin and crunchy.

  • Jlemm

    2006/04/26 at 8:54 am

    I feel your pain about the nap interruptions. My next door neighbors are having a deck built and it may seem paranoid, but I swear they make more noise and turn up their radios during my daughter’s naptime. I want to tell them that if they continue to wake her up, they will be the new proud parents of a bitchy 2 year old girl.

  • SurprisingWoman

    2006/04/26 at 8:45 am

    I feel for ya. I am evening overindulging in nighttime alcohol in sympathy. 😉

    Best wishes on your recovery.

  • TaraEyes

    2006/04/26 at 8:45 am

    Hmm… well I’d rather use more toilet paper than risk getting crap on my hand. 😉

    That’s just gross, I know.

  • Jennifer

    2006/04/26 at 12:28 pm

    I live in a house that was built in 1938. I have a huge maple tree in my back yard that is eating into my sewer line. Within the next few years I will either have to A) sell the house and leave the problem for the next owners or B) do exactly what you are doing. You have my condolences.

  • lyndsey_elise

    2006/04/26 at 12:14 pm

    My younger sister was a TP overuser until she clogged the pipes at my parents house. Now when she visits, the toilet paper is rationed.

  • lyssann

    2006/04/26 at 12:16 pm

    Beach towel, huh? Did he find any socks? Maybe that’s where all the missing clothing ends up? Maybe it can really be sucked out of the dryer.

  • GingerLane

    2006/04/26 at 12:20 pm

    We have toilets that freak out if you even look at them with the intent to poop, so I fear a similar situation could occur here. I even switched to using mostly cloth TP (since we cloth diaper, it’s not a big jump) just so the toilets would have a break now and again. Good times.

  • AmyB

    2006/04/26 at 12:12 pm

    Every few months in our neighborhood, it gets around that someone else’s sewer line is blocked, and that their basement is knee-deep in sewage. I live in dread that this will happen to us one day. I think we would have to just leave everything in the basement and move away. Immediately.

    Or, maybe we’ll luck out like you guys and just need the entire street and yard dug up. Yikes.

  • MissDirected

    2006/04/26 at 12:07 pm

    “If you ask me, dude takes shit way too seriously.”

    Am I the only one that found that extremely ammusing, considering that he’s a plumber?

  • kalisah

    2006/04/26 at 12:11 pm

    I’m SO IMPRESSED that you shut down your whole street. Wow.

  • medrud

    2006/04/26 at 12:12 pm

    I’m so sorry for your plumbing woes. What a nightmare, seriously. The only good thing I can think of (if there can be a good thing about plumbing hell) is the irony that YOUR house has constipation. You know, constipation. Funny…right?

    Ok, I’ll drop it now.

  • Sharlene

    2006/04/26 at 12:06 pm

    I was a swimming pool operator for over 15 years. Things I’ve fished out of piping include: coke cans, bathing suits, towels, pieces of scuba gear, lots of animals/worms, tons of jewellery (in retrospect I should have taken most of it to a pawn shop), bottles of beer, goggles, large rocks, skateboard pieces (from the winter when skateboarders use the pool as a park), bicycle parts (ditto), hockey pucks, clothing, underwear, and the list goes on… If there is a pool in your neigbourhood that could be where your towel originated. I doubt it was flushed down your toilet.

    I’m not even going to tell you what I’ve dug up during archaeology digs (of an outhouse because that is where people hide the INCRIMINATING stuff).

  • Star Shine

    2006/04/26 at 12:04 pm

    How dare he scowl at your simple request for a diving board? If they’re gonna keep Leta awake during her nap, the least they can do is provide her with some good, clean fun. Oh, wait….

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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